Ask A Linguist For October 1997 - December 1997
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> Dear Ms Chung,
> Thank you very much indeed for responding to my query.
> I realize that there are idiosyncratic uses, styles
> and approaches. My query was if there was any
> reasoning, justification, or explanation to this
> count-noncount variation with the -ache suffix. Your
> answer, I am afraid, has not provided me with the
> information I am after. Thanks anyway
> Fouad Khalil
To Fouad Hassan:
Sorry - I'll have another go at it.
My opinion: 'toothache' is a countable noun because it is a
specific, localized ailment, just like a 'headache' or 'sore back.'
'Heartache' is a generalized, overall condition rather than a specific
pain in one localized place, so it is uncountable; compare 'I feel
*discomfort*.' and 'I'm experiencing *nausea*.' both of which are
Hope this is close to what you're after.
Karen Steffen Chung
National Taiwan University